Quota threat for male dominance of top sport jobs

QUOTAS to increase the number of women at senior level within Scottish sport’s governing bodies are under consideration after it was revealed that less than one in five board members is female.

Scotlands women footballers do well on the park, but there are no women among the SFAs high heid yins. Photograph: Bill Murray/SNS

And a vocal lobby, led by the vastly experienced administrator and former chair of UK Sport, Baroness Sue Campbell, believes government action must be taken if the huge gap between male and female representation is not closed urgently.

Scotland on Sunday has discovered that, among the 29 associations involved in Olympic sport, only three – hockey, handball and equestrianism – have women comprising 50 per cent or more of its ruling executive. The Ladies Golf Union is an anomalous addition, with one token male invited within its inner sanctum.

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Nine bodies, including most notably the Scottish Football Association, have no women among their ruling elites. Sailing and rowing – two of the UK’s most successful Olympic endeavours – are among the others without even one female at the top level.

The fact that women make up just 19 per cent of Scottish sport’s governing bodies is one of the issues which is set to feature prominently in a soon-to-be-published report by a working group, commissioned for the Scottish Government, and written by Campbell.

“I want to see a position in sport where we have equality of opportunity, not just across governance but participation and coaching,” says Scottish sports minister Shona Robison.

Yet change, it is felt, must start at the top. One senior figure within SportScotland admits: “It might be time to start introducing a stick rather than a carrot” – words which can be seen as a veiled threat that funding for sports may depend upon breaking up any surviving old boys’ networks.

“I think it is slightly moving in the right direction,” says Campbell, pictured right, who now chairs the Youth Sport Trust. “The second challenge is you want the women coming on to those boards to be competent and good and able to add value. The minister in Scotland [Robison] is keen to draw up a register of women from professional backgrounds and could add massive value but maybe don’t think they can, simply because they’ve not played that sport.

“A good board has a range of expertise. Many governing bodies are small and medium enterprises that need running with the same clarity as a business. The way to do that is to match expertise on to boards and reinforce that understanding.”

Quotas, as has been found in employing women-only shortlists to choose Parliamentary candidates, can bring forward charges of tokenism. Even the right candidate may require extra training, argues Campbell, to ensure they are not square pegs in round holes.

Yet for some organisations, it will also require a move away from the assumption that sports should be governed from within, rather than seeking the right blend of professional advice.

“In many sports, it’s not just a man-woman thing,” Campbell says. “It’s that thought: ‘if you’ve not played football, you can’t know anything about it.’ Running a professional organisation requires accountancy skills, human resource skills, marketing planning and strategy.”

The search for such proficiency should be blind to a person’s gender. However, Sweden is among those countries which have ventured down the quota route to kick open the boardroom door, choosing a figure of 25 per cent which mirrors the 2017 target laid down as an ambition by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, as well as UK Sport’s own chief executive, Liz Nicholl.

“There’s clear evidence that having diversity at the top of the organisation has huge benefits,” argues Maureen McGonigle, the director of recently-formed Scottish Women in Sport, a charity which aims to raise the profile of sporting women. “Change is happening. People are talking about it. But doing it is a different matter. Scottish Rugby now has a woman on its board. That’s a change. But in the majority of cases, sports are happy to put policies together but they aren’t taking that next step.”

Despite the presence of former Commonwealth Games athlete, team manager and administrator Louise Martin as chair of SportScotland, and the respect in which Anne Smillie and Jane Moncrieff are held as the chief executives of Badminton Scotland and Triathlon Scotland, such a gulf appears more out of touch at a time when achievement on the field is at its highest.

At London 2012, almost 50 per cent of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s medallists were women, a contrast to 1996 in Atlanta where women made up just 6 per cent of GB&NI’s medallists.

“We haven’t capitalised enough,” says Campbell. “They should have been on every billboard and magazine.”

That they weren’t, she says, is due to male football’s traditional hegemony. Everything else is shouted down by the noise, including women’s football, with Scottish Women’s Football recently making McGonigle’s administrative role redundant due to a lack of funds. It is one symptom among many of an ailment. Remedial treatment, inexorably, is on the way, even if it is against the patient’s wishes.

“There has to be some kind of leverage to get those bodies to act differently,” Campbell warns. “But those issues are just the same across the UK. This is not a Scottish issue.”